The Bangor Daily News
Friday, September 25, 1998
Cutting outpaces growth in Maine woods
By Orna Izakson, Of the NEWS Staff -- ORONO
- Mainers are cutting the forests faster
they are growing, the Maine Forest Service announced at a forestry conference Thursday. The
solution, officials offered, is to make trees grow faster to fill the gap. Chuck Gadzik, director
of the Maine Forest Service, said a new analysis of the state's timber supply shows cutting
rates ''cannot be considered sustainable by any fair definition.''
Maine's largest landowners are cutting 14 percent
more wood each year than their forests are
growing back. Small landowners, on average, are also cutting more than they grow, but by 7
If growth rates and logging continue at current
levels - and if no land is taken out of forestry
either for development or conservation - the total amount of wood standing in Maine's forests
will drop by about a third over the next 100 years.
But that does not mean a crisis is imminent,
Gadzik said. Maine's forests currently contain
about 22 billion cubic feet of wood, according to the study. By 2085, if nothing changed, there
would be roughly 15 billion cubic feet of wood.
In simple terms, the forest is like a bank
account in which the owner takes out slightly more
each week than is put in. There is no imminent threat of bankruptcy, Gadzik explained,
because the account was started with a substantial sum. But inevitably the difference between
deposits and withdrawals begins eating away at capital - in this case, the natural capital of
Maine's forest lands.
But some environmentalists said the analogy
is faulty. Karin Tilberg, an attorney working
with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said while one dollar may be the same as any
other, individual trees or tracts of forest land are not interchangeable. Some trees in the
inventory may be the wrong species or age to be valuable to Maine industries. The trees may
be growing in parts of the state where they are inacessible to loggers or not economically
available to mills or manufacturers.
And while there may not be a crisis in the
short term, she said, there is not a solution in the
short term, either. ''Just like it takes an oil tanker some time to slow down and change
direction, we need to take action now to be able to change the direction of forest management
in Maine to achieve a healthy, sustainable approach.''
Gadzik, of the Maine Forest Service, said there
is a solution: Grow trees faster. That means
intensive - and expensive - management techniques including spraying herbicides, thinning
trees before they have commercial value and maintaining plantations of fast-growing trees of a
single species after clear-cutting the natural forest.
Those practices currently are used on 4 percent
of Maine's forest lands. The report suggests
boosting that acreage by about 46,000 acres each year, which, after 50 years, would bring the
total to 9 percent of Maine's forest lands.
But those practices have fueled a heated debate.
Jonathan Carter, director of the Forest Ecology
Network and an opponent of clear-cutting and
herbicide spraying, said Thursday he was pleased that the state was acknowledging what
environmentalists long have charged are unsustainable logging levels.
But, Carter said, the report ''candy coated''
the problem by using faulty assumptions that make
its results less critical.
Among other charges, he said the analysis overestimated
the amount of land potentially
available for intensive logging, skewing the conclusions. Basing the analysis on a smaller
acreage, he said, would have shown a much greater difference between growth and harvest -
perhaps 50 percent rather than the 14 percent listed in the analysis.
''What is alarming about this report is that
it suggests that rather than reduce harvest levels -
an obvious solution - that harvest levels can be maintained if more intensive industrial
management occurs,'' he said in the release. ''Clear-cuts destroy forests. Plantations destroy
biological diversity. Herbicides cause cancer, abnormal growth and mutations - it is not
morning dew. All three of these techniques undermine forest health and the long-term
productivity of the forest.''
Bill Vail, executive director of the Maine
Forest Products Council, scoffed at the notion of
reducing logging levels. Doing so, he said, would be like predicting a potato shortage in
Aroostook County and then telling farmers to harvest fewer potatoes.
''The way out of this is to grow our way out
of it,'' he said. ''And that can be easily
accomplished by more and sensitive management.''
While many people pounced on the report to
defend their existing positions, Gadzik told the
more than 120 people gathered at the University of Maine for the fourth annual Munsungan
Conference on forestry that the study was specifically limited in scope.
The analysis was intended only to look at the
effects of current forest practices over the next
50 years, if nothing in the forest changed. That means the report does not chart the effect of
inevitable natural disturbances, including the spruce budworm, conversion of forest land to
other uses, or changes in growth rates or demand for wood products.
The study was mandated by the Legislature last
spring. Rep. George Bunker, House chairman
of the Agriculture, Conservation and Foresty Committee, said the report is part of a flow of
long-awaited infomation that will help policy-makers manage the forest.
The report identifies areas for improvement,
the Kossuth Township Democrat said. ''I think
this report will point things in the right direction.''
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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